It may seem like a bit of a conflict in having two bird-themed PSVR games releasing within mere weeks of one another, but let there be no confusion: How We Soar and Eagle Flight fly in very different circles.
It was one of my initial concerns about the game when I donned my futuristic PSVR headset. Turns out they couldn’t be any more different. See, How We Soar is a very, very mellow game that wants you, the player, to take your time and enjoy the scenery as much as it wants you to push on further into the game’s story. Yes, it has a story! Is it any good? Well, that’s subjective, but for me it was good enough.
How We Soar is a tale of a writer who’s looking for inspiration. It covers some pretty high-brow themes, too, though I imagine these will be lost on the younger generation. The story plays out as you ride atop a great big phoenix. Sounds pretty rad already, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. It’s cool as hell to look left and right and see these huge feathery wings flapping beside you, but then the sickness kicks in, or at least it did for me. I powered through, mind, but it wasn’t easy and I think this is down to the way the game controls.
Instead of having moving being dictated by the headset, you’re required to use the DualShock 4 to flap those wings harder, flap those wings not-so-hard, and deal with all movement. Oh, and you can whip your phoenix to make him speed up. I can’t say I didn’t feel bad the first few times I gave him a spanking, but then I remembered I’m playing a video game and I don’t worship PETA…
The controls work fine, but for me they give my belly the wobbles, especially when banking left and right. Speaking of which, it’s not exactly an easy ride, How We Soar, at least not in beginning. Trying to navigate around the first level left me confused, annoyed, and sick. Moving the phoenix around is slow and needs a bit of finesse – something I’m not particularly famous for. After a I while I started to appreciate the slow and deliberate movements as being characteristics that one would find in such a large beast and, after a little thought, I decided I quite liked it. There’s a real sense that you’re not just a passenger on this journey, but you’re also the conductor and your train is a great big bloody bird. ‘Course it’s not going to be doing 90-degree turns in 0.36 seconds, silly.
My weak belly aside, the game controls just fine and it’s quite neat having your paper DualShock 4 controller in front of your very eyes. Oh, did I not mention that game’s world is made out of paper? No? Well then, it is, and it looks great because of it. PSVR isn’t going to be delivery the top-end graphics that other VR solutions can offer, but that doesn’t mean that skilled developers and designers can’t craft some inventive worlds, and How We Soar serves to prove that point perfectly. You’ll find no life-like graphics here, instead you’ll soar amongst the paper clouds, the paper home office, the paper… Everything. It works really well from a design standpoint and it looks incredible in motion and, dare I say, it’s definitely up there with the best PSVR has to offer in terms of visual presentation.
You progress by flying through coloured hoops (think those Quidditch/flying lesson levels in the PS One Harry Potter Games) to bring a dash of colour to the world. There are also orbs to collect and some mini-phoenixes to chase down. I’ll be honest and say I was a little disappointed by the decidedly simple gameplay cycle, yet it just about got away with it thanks to its charm. See, How We Soar literally opens with colour as you fly around the game’s levels. You “paint” the objects by flying close to them and in return you get, er, more colour? It might sound a little weak but honestly, it’s just so damn relaxing to fly around and paint the world with your mount’s wings. The more you explore a chapter, the more you bring it to life. It’s a very serene game that, I feel, doesn’t stand behind you giving you kicks in the bum to get you to push on with the story. As much as I like a good story in a video game, I like what Penny Black Studios has gone for with How We Soar: simplicity. I like that. I respect that.
It’s not all roses made from paper, though. As is the curse of many a VR game, How We Soar is a little light on content and replay value. Once you’ve gone through the game’s story and had the narrator say his piece a dozen or so times, there’s no reason to go back in; there’s no multiplayer, no alternate modes, and it’s not so thrilling that it demands to be replayed instantly.
Of course it’s still an enjoyable game, and if you find yourself longing to escape the stress of everyday life then How We Soar is pure abstract escapism. Maybe space it out? Do a level a day? I don’t know, but I was definitely left feeling like I could have done with a bit more on my plate by the end of the game.
How We Soar PS4/PSVR Review
How We Soar is a super chilled-out game, no questions asked. Flying around on top of the magnificent phoenix is incomparable to any other game - yes, even Eagle Flight, they're different! - and it really does need to be seen to be believed. There's a decent story tucked away within the scattered pages, but there's not much reason to go back in once you've seen it through to the end.
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* Reviewed using PS4 Slim.